The Rising Phoenix

Author's Notes: This story starts the night of the second (and final) battle against Voldemort. I have disregarded parts of the Epilogue from the seventh book/movie—specifically that Hermione and Ron became a couple. I believe this story will run about twelve chapters. I have finished writing nine of them…so don't worry—this story will be finished!

Betas are awesome! Please spare a moment or three to give silent thanks and praise to some wonderful individuals— akasarahsmom (GinStan), dhamphir, shesgottaread, and quiethearted for their support and kind words while I pulled out my hair and worried about writing in a new fandom (yes, this is my first Harry Potter story!). Let me know what you think of it if you are so inclined.

Disclaimers: I was going to write a really technical, legal version here about how I am not earning any money off of this story and am merely offering it for entertainment value, protected by the fair use doctrine (in a much more impressive format, of course); forget that—you all know. Plus, I'm a real piss-ant, so if you are the owner of the characters, books, movies—whatever—and want to sue me, go ahead and try. Bring it on. I have a law degree, and I'm not afraid to use it.

Oh yeah—I do not own Harry Potter, any of the characters associated with the books, movies, audiotapes, video games, theme park, knick-knacks, assorted sundry, or wands (except for the one I made in my backyard with a dead branch—it doesn't work)

Pairing: Minerva McGonagall/Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

Rating: eventually M/NC-17

Chapter 1

Nearly asleep, Hermione allowed her thoughts to wander as she closed her eyes to the surrounding shadows. It had been a hard day, a hard week, a hard year—certainly her body, mind, and spirit felt well-abused. But they had done it. They had defeated Voldemort. Her best friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, were alive. And her favorite, most revered professor, Minerva McGonagall, was safe, somewhere within this very castle, hopefully getting some sleep.

Hermione had been invited to join Ron and Harry at the Weasley's home, but she had wanted to remain here in what had been her home for so many years. She had missed this place over the last year while they had searched for Horcruxes and hidden from Voldemort and his followers.

Today they had returned to Hogwarts to confront Voldemort and vanquish him once and for all. Many had died, and at one point she had believed that Harry had been one of the casualties. He was alive, though, and although it would take much time and effort, what had been destroyed would be repaired, such as this castle.

Ron had not understood why Hermione wished to remain. She sighed. She was tired of explaining her reasoning for her every action. He always gave into his emotions, such as when he had abandoned her and Harry in the woods. Although it could be argued that he showed strength of character by returning, she could not quite trust that he wouldn't always remain a slave to his emotions, emotions that often blinded him from the truth. And so she remained behind to help rebuild Hogwarts, to regain some perspective, and to heal. She was drawn here, and the promise of a doomed relationship did nothing to entice her away.

The kiss she had shared with Ron—that was just another example of feelings overwhelming pure good sense. She loved Ron. She loved Harry, too. Her love for Harry felt comfortable and warm—like a favorite sweater worn on a cold winter's day. How Ron could have become jealous of Harry and her relationship with him was beyond Hermione's understanding. They had never felt that way about each other, and any git could see that Harry was in love with Ron's sister, Ginny.

Her feelings for Ron were also strong, and their chemistry was undeniable. The genuineness of her feelings for him, though, would not be enough to sustain a romantic relationship. They were too different. She wanted to learn more, to see more, to be more. She feared that she would lose that zest for life, that desire to grow and stretch, if she gave in to carnal desire. It would be foolhardy and ultimately unfulfilling. And when she finally gave herself to another, it would be to a person she could love for the remainder of her life. Perhaps she was old-fashioned, but she was not interested in a casual fling or passing fancy.

So no, she could not be with Ron in that way. He would not understand, probably not for a long time. She could only hope that he would allow them to remain friends. She wanted him to be happy and fulfilled, but she wanted to be happy and fulfilled, too. That would not happen if they entered into a relationship.

Hermione heard a slight noise near the edge of her bed and struggled to open her eyes. In the shadows she saw slight movement, and Hermione fought to remain still while her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Slowly the form edged closer. Hermione tilted her head, surprised to see Professor McGonagall's animagus, a silver tabby cat with black markings, hop gracefully onto the bottom of her bed. Staring into a surprisingly penetrating stare, Hermione watched as the cat moved closer to her, not stopping until she reached her left hip.

Hermione was unsure what to do. She wondered whether McGonagall's animagus harnessed the wisdom and capacity to understand her if she tried to talk to her unexpected visitor. Holding the cat's gaze, and feeling utterly ridiculous all the while, Hermione moved her left arm to pat the animagus, only to find it swatted toward her chest. The cat hopped forward quickly and held the arm firmly between her two paws in a V position, her eyes trained on the inner forearm, bared as Hermione's nightshirt sleeve slid toward her elbow.

"Oh," Hermione yelped in surprise. She watched as the cat cocked her head and sniffed at the new scar her arm bore. A bolt of shame swiftly traveled through her, and she tried to pull her arm away to no avail. Flashes of when she, Harry, and Ron had been captured and brought to Malfoy Manor to be interrogated crossed her mind. Bellatrix Lestrange had taken special pleasure in torturing Hermione for information. As if the Cruciatus Curse levied against Hermione several times hadn't been enough to satiate Bellatrix's sadistic desire to cause pain, she had carved the word "Mudblood" into Hermione's flesh—into the arm currently held with a steadfast grip between furry paws.

Feeling a scratchy tongue lapping at her scars, Hermione's eyes widened with shock. The cat made mewling noises reflecting her distress as she rubbed her head against Hermione's forearm and continued to lick the damaged area. Although the area had healed and no longer caused physical pain, Bellatrix' magic had prevented the slightly-raised scars from being removed. Hermione had taken to wearing long-sleeved tops to hide the damning word or using a glamour spell to cover it, but she always knew it was there, taunting her.

Watching the animagus continue to kiss her arm, providing Hermione some form of comfort and the knowledge that the cat—Professor McGonagall—was upset with Hermione's harrowing experiences, Hermione moved her other arm to stroke the cat gently. Loud purring erupted, making her smile. The cat's emerald eyes flicked toward Hermione's chocolate ones before she moved forward to butt her head against Hermione's chest. The cat plopped down on top of Hermione's left arm, effectively pinning it against her sternum, and stretched out her legs. Pulling her elongated body forward, the cat focused her green eyes, just inches from Hermione's face, onto brown ones for several moments as she continued to purr. Delicately, slowly, the animagus leaned forward and touched her mouth against Hermione's lips daintily before beginning to lick with small strokes and purring even louder. Hermione's eyebrows flew toward her hairline as she trembled with emotion.

The animal's actions could be easily interpreted: sorrow and affection. Hermione could well understand why Professor McGonagall would be unwilling or unable to express such feelings in the light of day, but in her animagus form, she was free to do so in an acceptable way, a way that would not threaten propriety.

Tears escaped Hermione's eyes as she continued to stroke the cat's fur lovingly. She didn't want to cry. She had thought that she had dealt with her feelings for that night—that night when she had been tortured. Yet, she could not seem to help herself. She closed her eyes as the tears flowed faster and faster down her face. She stifled a sob as the cat licked the salty proof of her anguish away. Hermione held the cat close to her, allowing herself to sob into the soft fur as the cat continued her attempts to lick away the waterfall of tears while yowling her concern into the still night.

"It's, it's all right," Hermione whispered into the cat's ear. "I just, I haven't really had the time to deal with everything, and you are so very comforting." Hermione heard the purrs start up once more, as loud as a motor, and she smiled with a sigh. "Thank you for being here." Opening her eyes, she stared into those emerald eyes once more and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Minerva." She received a head butt on her chin in response and chuckled. Closing her eyes once more she whispered, "Just stay until I fall asleep, please." Hearing more purring, Hermione allowed exhaustion to lead her into sleep.

The next morning Hermione woke up with a headache. She surmised it was probably the by-product of her uncontrolled sobbing the night before. A sad smile graced her face as she remembered the solace she had felt while hugging Professor McGonagall—well, her animagus—until she had fallen asleep, exhausted.

Looking around the room, she was thankful that the Gryffindor dorms had not been damaged. It was a small blessing. Hermione planned to remain in the castle while renovations proceeded. Although she had not really discussed such plans with Professor McGonagall, she was certain that her offer to help would not be refused.

Professor Minerva McGonagall. Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts. Was she the Headmistress now? Probably. What should Hermione call her?

And last night—she had no idea how to address those events or whether she even should. She would have to take her cues from her former Transfiguration teacher.

Former. That was debatable, she supposed. Even though she had not finished her seventh year, the good Professor had offered Hermione the opportunity to take her N.E.W.T.s whenever she was ready. Even more astounding, she had offered to tutor Hermione so that she could prepare properly. Hermione looked forward to digging into academia again, to not having to fight for her life every day, and to spending more time with the older witch.

Hermione had noticed that Professor McGonagall had spoken to her differently when extending the offer, with a different tone of voice—not the "teacher voice" she had always associated with the brilliant witch. No, it had been more intimate, gentler, the intonations similar to how a friend would converse with another. Someone who cared for her. Respected her. Saw her. Hermione couldn't quite put her finger on it, and she had to acknowledge that it might just be her overactive imagination or boundless hopes that were reconstructing their brief conversation.

She did not imagine their shared hug, though, once the battle had ended, nor how they had clutched at each other before others had caught up to them and the moment of solace had been broken. For a moment, Hermione had felt able to pause, to just take a deep breath, knowing she was safe. And missed.

Looking around her bedchamber, she noticed that the room had lightened as dawn swept through the castle. The other three beds were empty, and Hermione, after so many months sharing space with Ron and Harry, appreciated the luxury. On the bedside table sat a small bottle. Picking it up, she smiled at Professor McGonagall's thoughtfulness. It was a potion to treat her headache. Hermione drank it and got up, keen to start her day.

It didn't take long to shower and change, although Hermione would have loved to dawdle under the heavenly feel of hot water sluicing over her body. Perhaps at the end of the day she would indulge. It had been a long time since she had experienced something as simple as a long, hot shower. So long since she had felt able to walk around without constantly looking over her shoulder. She felt invigorated by the idea that she could finally move forward with her life and indulge in such simple pleasures. Even with the daunting task of repairing the castle looming over her, Hermione felt good.

Dressed in fitted jeans, a sky-blue Oxford shirt, and navy jumper, Hermione made her way to the Gryffindor common room and stopped short in surprise.

"Hermione. Did you get some sleep?" Harry asked as he rose from the couch and approached.

"Harry! I thought you would be at the Burrow with everyone else," Hermione said.

"Well, not everyone was there, were they?" Harry rebutted with a small smile. "I left before they finished eating breakfast, but I suspect they will be joining us soon to help out."

"Oh, Harry. You didn't have to rush over. With all you've been through, you've certainly earned the right to take it easy," Hermione said as she hugged Harry tightly.

"I could say the same to you, Hermione," Harry said softly as they broke apart.

"No, I, this is where I need to be. I want to help rebuild. But you shouldn't feel obligated. And the Weasleys…they are already dealing with so much. "

"Hermione," Harry said as he held her elbows and looked into her eyes earnestly. "You have always been there for me, no matter what. Let me be here for you. That's what friends are for, right?" he cajoled while shaking her gently.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean, Harry," Hermione said as she turned away.

"Oh come on, Hermione," Harry chided gently. "It's me you're talking to. I know you have something on your mind. I can see it."

"Well, it's not like it's a life or death problem," she chuckled mirthlessly.

"Even better." Hermione watched her friend draw near. "You can trust me."

"Look. I'm just going to help with repairs and study for my N.E.W.T.s," Hermione answered, her voice strained. She could not, would not share her disgrace, the branding she carried due to her heritage. Oh, he would commiserate, he would feel horrible, but this was something she needed to accept, and no amount of her friend's outrage, righteous anger, or sorrow regarding her permanent reminder of her time at Malfoy Manor would change those events.

"Well, then, I'll help with repairs, too. I'm sure McGonagall won't mind."

"Harry, don't you think you should spend some time with Ginny?" Hermione said desperately. She was torn between accepting his help and running him off. It wasn't that she didn't want him here—she just hated the thought of him putting his life on hold again to help others. What kind of life was that? And she needed time to work through her emotions and to figure out what she wanted.

"I'll tell you what. I'll stay at the Burrow at night and return here each day for the next couple of weeks to help with repairs," Harry said.

Hermione stared at him. Clearly, he was not going to allow her to hide away and lick her wounds. Nodding, a smile broke across her face. "That sounds reasonable."

"And you'll return there with me each night," he continued, effectively wiping the smile off her face.

Shaking her head slowly, Hermione said gravely, "No, Harry. That's not a good idea. Ron, he believes that we have a future together, but we don't—at least not the type he wants. We need time apart."

"But you two kissed! I saw it. Hermione, what's going on?" Harry asked.

"Yes, we shared a kiss, but it was only once. You've kissed others girls before Ginny, right?" She watched him nod. "Well, sometimes it's just a moment in time, a gesture that means something then but can't transfer over to more. It is the difference between kissing just anyone and kissing someone special."

"I don't understand. I thought you loved him," he said as he pushed a hand through his hair.

"I know, and I do. But it's not enough. I'd rather preserve our friendship than indulge in the excitement of a new relationship only to find us both regretting it later. Harry," Hermione said as she rested a hand on his chest, "Ron and I have very different ideas about the future. We'd both be settling if we stubbornly insisted on being together."

"But you love him," Harry said again.

"Yes," Hermione agreed patiently. "I also love you, Harry, but just as it would never work between us, it would never work with Ron." She watched as several emotions crossed Harry's face, morphing into acceptance.

"Okay, Hermione. Is there," Harry hesitated for a moment before continuing, "is there someone else?"

Hermione blushed. "I, I don't think so," she muttered as her eyes skittered away.

"You don't think so?" Harry's incredulous voice pulled Hermione's eyes back to his face.

"Well, I didn't think so, but I am beginning to wonder whether I have been hiding from my feelings," she admitted as she sat down heavily on the couch.

"What feelings? Who is it?" Harry asked curiously, sitting next to her.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but I've hardly admitted it to myself. I'm not ready to talk about it with anyone else, not even with my best mate." Hermione nudged his shoulder with hers and smiled. "I hope you understand."

"I do. When you're ready to talk, just remember you can tell me anything."

"Thank you. That means a lot to me," Hermione whispered and leaned over to hug him. Sniffling, she jumped up. "Right. Enough of that then. Let's go see about something to eat so we can start putting this place back together." She would have to examine her feelings later when she was alone. For now, she would face the day knowing she could help heal the hurt Hogwarts had suffered, she was among friends, and she was safe.